Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Judas Door

      In the nearly six decades since his death in 1963, President John F. Kennedy had been the subject of many stories, many of them detailing his immense humanity. One of them was an anecdote told by a former Secret Service agent who was part of the 35th president's security detail.
     On a bitter cold winter night, President Kennedy was working late in the Oval Office when he'd noticed the lonely Secret Service agent posted outside the only door in the Oval Office leading outside. So Kennedy got up, opened the door and asked the agent if he wanted to come in where it was warm. The agent informed the president, "No, sir, this is my posting, so i have to stay out here." Ironically, Secret Service agents, especially those assigned to the presidential security detail, are virtually the only federal employees who don't have to listen to the president, especially when  he gives them orders that contradict those handed to them by their immediate superiors.
     Nodding, Kennedy then walked from the Oval Office to the White House kitchen and had two mugs of hot chocolate made for him. Then the Commander in Chief walked back to the Oval Office, put on his overcoat, and walked outside. Sitting down on the stoop next to the agent with the unenviable posting, President Kennedy then suspended the crushing affairs of state to keep a cold lonely man company over a cup of hot chocolate.
     The retired agent, relating the tale decades after the president's death, broke down in tears and concluded, "That was the man I worked for."
     Then last night Lawrence O'Donnell related a story passed down to us in Bob Woodward's and Robert Costa's book, Peril, which just launched today. In pages 228 to 231, Woodward and Costa related a tale about a January 5th meeting between Pence and Trump. We'd already heard pieces of this contentious meeting that ended in a screaming match between a vice president reluctantly resigned to doing his job certifying the electoral college votes the next day and a tyrant literally insane in his single-minded obsession with staying in power in contravention of the voice and will of the American people.
     After Pence left the Oval Office, his face "chalk white", Trump got up and opened the same door President Kennedy had opened over a half a century before to comfort a miserably cold Secret Service agent. His aides were freezing as a result of the arctic chill filling the Oval Office because Trump wanted to hear the noise coming in from outside. That noise were the barbarians literally at the gate in preparation for the next day's riot that Trump had repeatedly flogged on Twitter during his numbered days on that platform.
     That's how desperate he was for attention. Trump had just come back from Georgia that day to essentially tell Republican voters their votes on that day's runoff elections wouldn't count because the races for both of Georgia's Senate seats were rigged. But the cheers from his right wing supporters in Georgia had long since faded from his ears and he needed to hear more.
     Trump took a door that was central to a heartwarming tale about Jack Kennedy's strong sense of humanity and turned it into a kind of Judas door that figured just as prominently in this new anecdote about Trump as he prepared to overthrow his own government and even put his own vice president in mortal peril mere hours later. The two anecdotes not only starkly delineate the essential character of each man, it also delineates the starker difference between them. Kennedy's humanity, his arbitrary decision to put aside affairs of state to comfort a human being versus Trump's arbitrary decision to put aside affairs of state to comfort himself and his wounded ego.


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